Can You Handle The Truth? Four Essential Rules For Effective Communication And Teamwork

Shannon Waller
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Extraordinary Coach Culture: All Progress Starts By Telling The Truth

I’d like you to imagine yourself in a meeting. You’ve just proposed a new strategy for client engagement you spent weeks developing and, miraculously, everyone seems to be on board. In fact, there hasn’t been a single critique the whole meeting.

You leave the room in record time feeling confident, proud, and excited to move forward with your plan … and then notice small clusters of your team members gathering in the hall to talk, worried looks on their faces. It strikes you as odd that they’d be so chatty after the meeting when they had so little to say during it, but when you ask for a project update a week later, everyone assures you things are moving along well.

Two weeks later, you find out nothing has actually been done.

What happened?

When “You can’t handle the truth!”

It sounds like your team has received the message, whether explicitly or implicitly, that honesty is not the best policy in the workplace. They may fear being punished for speaking their minds, think they’ll be rewarded for offering empty praise, or simply prefer taking the path of least resistance. One or all of these could have been true in their previous working experience or even seem to be true right now. Sweeping problems under the rug is easier (and may feel less awkward) than bringing them to light, after all, at least in the short term.

In the long term, however, it’s disastrous.

That’s because, as Strategic Coach co-founder Dan Sullivan says, “All progress starts by telling the truth.” When we don’t know what’s working and what’s not working, we can’t adapt, improve, or grow. We can’t make informed decisions or anticipate future obstacles. We just get stuck in fantasy land.

And while it might feel really good to stay in fantasy land, it doesn’t do us good moving forward.

Teamwork is built on trust.

For your team to function — and function well — they need to know they can rely on one another. They need to trust that the people around them have their success, and the success of your company, in mind, and will therefore speak up when things aren’t working and speak straight about problems that might arise down the road.

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to not only encourage your team members to identify problems and areas for improvement, but give them the confidence to take action and remedy those issues.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the growth of your business depends on this kind of deliberate honesty.

Without trust, authenticity, and integrity, teamwork falls apart. These are the qualities that lie at the core of Strategic Coach culture, and they’re what have enabled us to keep growing and thriving for 30 years.

So, what does it look like to speak up and speak straight?

Can you handle the truth? If you want to be successful, you’ll need to! Get Shannon Waller’s Team Success Handbook to learn why being honest about obstacles, setbacks, and mistakes is the #1 way to grow your business.

“Just the facts, Ma’am!”

It begins by recognizing that, at any given time, some things are going to be working really well for you and your team and some things just aren’t … and that’s okay. If you’re not trying new things, you’re not growing, and when you are trying new things, some of them will inevitably fail. The great thing is, that’s where the most learning and progress happen.

So you really have to start by decriminalizing failure and ensuring everyone knows that mistakes are just opportunities to do things better (and maybe faster, easier, or cheaper too).

It’s also about acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses so you can take on the right tasks and ask for help with, or even pass up, the wrong ones. There’s no shame in knowing you’re not the right person for the job. In fact, it makes you really easy to work with, because you’re not faking yourself or anyone else. You’re just incredibly accurate.

Beyond that, I like to take my cues from Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. If you haven’t read the book, it’s a deceptively simple yet powerful manual for living your life, whatever your background: four rules, four ways of being and communicating authentically in the world.

1. Be impeccable with your word.

Now, there’s honesty, and then there’s honesty. We often worry about hurting other people’s feelings by telling the full truth, but we do them more harm than good by not sharing our feedback (which is different from criticism), or offering praise they haven’t earned.

2. Don’t take things personally.

This is a hard one, I know, and it’s the reason many people are so hesitant to share their true opinions. There’s a difference between constructive criticism and intentional attacks, and being able to recognize it is really important for teamwork in general and progress overall. Rather than reacting when someone offers criticism or presents a different view, try taking a step back from the emotions that arise and instead say, “Okay, tell me more. Help me understand.” Then really listen to their words (not what you think you’re hearing beneath the surface).

3. Don’t make assumptions.

We often listen more through the lens of our own experiences, biases, and emotions than through our actual ears, and this makes communication and teamwork really difficult. For this reason, it’s always better to ask for clarification—i.e., ask lots of questions—than to make an assumption about someone’s intent. Never assume—there’s a reason that old refrain from grade school has stuck around so long, and it’s not just that kids love potty language!

4. Always do your best.

This one is about having a lot of grace and compassion, not just for other people, but for yourself as well. I find it really useful to go into situations with the mindset that everyone, including me, is doing their best—even if their best isn’t very good! Because sometimes we do a great job and sometimes we don’t, but I’m positive nobody sets out intending to do something poorly. It’s just a matter of having the right skill set, personality, and strategy for a particular task.

It starts with you.

Remember, you set the tone of your organization. If you start by speaking straight (and compassionately) yourself, your team will follow your example. Once you create an environment that encourages this kind of direct, open communication, you’ll find that problems get solved, projects move ahead, and progress happens much faster.